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What would be best "human rights" word equivalent for all intelligent beings, including humans, demi-humans, and other intelligent life forms?

Example of demi-humans are Lizard folk, Cat people, etc.

Intelligent meaning they can read & write and understand law.

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    $\begingroup$ Sophont: An intelligent being; a being with a base reasoning capacity roughly equivalent to or greater than that of a human being. $\endgroup$ – John Nov 5 '18 at 17:57
  • $\begingroup$ I apologize, but even though this was a wildly popular question, it's been proposed that "what should I name X?" questions and technobabble are off-topic for this site. So, to disuade future OPs, I'm voting to close as too broad (or POB, take your pick). People who disagree are welcome to bring the issue up in Meta (I encourage it). $\endgroup$ – JBH Nov 6 '18 at 4:47
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    $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure Pratchett has covered this $\endgroup$ – njzk2 Nov 6 '18 at 6:53
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    $\begingroup$ Realcase. In my current book-in-the-works (a sci-fi title), I'm using the word metasapient to refer to the various races, including spirits, AI and intelligent animals. The "human rights" equivalent is encoded and referred as Universal Rights Manifesto. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Nov 6 '18 at 19:22
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    $\begingroup$ Relevant quote from Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country. "Human rights", the very name is racist... $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Nov 7 '18 at 7:49

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Natural rights

The concept of natural law appeared first in Ancient Greek philosophy. It was championed by the Roman Cicero and expanded into great treatises by Averroes and Thomas Aquinas.

Natural law asserts that certain rights are inherent by virtue of the nature of the world. While the Abrahamic religions obviously centered their view of natural law on human rights extended by God; it is easy to transfer this concept to the rights of all intelligent races extended by Nature (or God, if your setting has an omnipotent Demiurge).

The rights conferred onto all intelligent peoples by natural law are naturally (heh!) referred to as 'natural rights'.

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    $\begingroup$ This is what I came here to say as well. There's a short (~10 min) video on the history of human rights that traces this back in simplistic form. Natural law -> natural rights -> human rights. You only have to go one step back in the linguistic evolution for a phrase that could apply to aliens just as well. :) $\endgroup$ – Wildcard Nov 7 '18 at 1:35
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Denizen rights, Person rights, Personal rights, Individual rights, life rights, citizen rights.

Perhaps the most similar is Person rights because in some fields like anthropology the word person is used as distinct from human to mean a thinking being whose interests need to be taken into account (which includes humans, of course, but also might include spirits, animals, or even plants, objects and physical phenomena).

Of course, Human rights are called Human rights for a range of historical and accidental reasons, not exactly that people sat down and came up with the best term that they could. There could be a particular historical (in your world) reason why the name of a movement for certain groups of rights would have a particular name. They could be called Delhi Rights because the first international treaty on them was signed in Delhi. They could be called international rights or transcendent rights, or global rights because of the desire for them to operate in all places for all people. They could be called Universal rights, they could be called all rights. They could be named after a person, country, or region where they were argued for first (or loudest). Or they could be named for the way they were formulated: declared rights, or formal rights, or enumerated rights, or agreed rights.

If you want to get away from the individualist framework of contemporary western human rights discourse, you could call them community rights or collective rights. You could also phrase (and frame) them as 'freedoms' or 'expectations' or 'safeties' or 'standards' rather than 'rights'. The sky is the limit!

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    $\begingroup$ +1 Denizen is my go to. Its different enough that we don't associate it with people or humans. The other ones make sense, but since we use it in society, it has a more humanly feel to it. $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee Nov 5 '18 at 6:02
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    $\begingroup$ "Person rights" is fitting in English, but if you are hoping to have your work translated to other languages there could be issues. Some languages don't make a distinction between "person" and "human". Japanese is one such language, I think. They use "ningen" for both. It feels a bit "dehumanizing" (wordplay intended) when you read a translated manga and a character says something like "She's a good person... I mean 'elf'". $\endgroup$ – Kapten-N Nov 5 '18 at 8:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Kapten-N definitely would pose a dilemma for any translator! I think that the regular phrase 'human rights' is sometimes variously translated as "rights of people" or "rights of man" with man as either singular or plural... definitely other languages will have different considerations $\endgroup$ – Bug Catcher Nakata Nov 5 '18 at 8:53
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    $\begingroup$ perhaps add "sentient rights" in that list so I don't have to waste space with that as an answer if it can be added to this list. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Nov 5 '18 at 10:04
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    $\begingroup$ Human rights are called Human rights for a range of historical and accidental reasons The main reason is an absence of any non-humans having needed to be included. It's the same reason why we still talk about "the sun" and "the moon". We don't have a second one so there was never a need to distinguish between two suns or two moons. If Earth had two moons, we would refer to them by a unique name. $\endgroup$ – Flater Nov 5 '18 at 15:43
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Sentient rights, sapient rights, legal resident rights, citizen rights...

There are basically two things you need to consider here.

First, there is no single correct option. This is because these "fundamental rights" (another option) are not actually "fundamental" rights, they are legal constructs granted by a political process. The correct word to use is the one that properly describes that political process and the reasoning behind it. So to pick the right word you need to make up the history behind how people got those right and why and then (sorry about this) briefly try to think like a politician selling the idea.

Sometimes, surprisingly often really, the terms that stick were originally coined by people opposing the idea as derogatory terms. This is even more likely if the lofty ideas have a history of implementation problems. So you might want to think about it from that direction as well.

Second, The legal rights are not a single monolithic object. For example, while there is almost infinite number of possible terms you could choose, the reason I picked the four in the beginning (sentient rights, sapient rights, legal resident rights, citizen rights) is that they represent a continuous scale of scope. There are sentients that are also sapient and have sapient rights in addition to their sentient rights, but all sapient beings are also sentient and automatically have all the sentient rights in addition to their sapient rights. And so on. So you would want multiple different grades of rights with separate names and legal and ideological basis.

Historically and realistically in addition to such logical and neatly scoped rights you would also have a patchwork of more speficic rights and privileges granted in a specific historical context without any overlying design and logic. Say a specific group of refugees or immigrants or a religious or ethnic minority might get a special deal in response to a political crisis and that deal will then be on the books for decades or even centuries. You might want to add one or two such special cases to your system to make it look more realistic. Sadly, messy -> realism.

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    $\begingroup$ I would pick "sapient rights" over "sentient rights", because sentience includes animals that are commonly not considered intelligent the same way as humans are intelligent. A sentient being is aware of its surroundings and is capable of making decisions. A sapient being is able to reason about the future and communicate that reasoning with some kind of language. Sentient rights would be an extension of animal rights and sapient rights would be an extension of human rights. This would also include different levels of true AI. $\endgroup$ – Kapten-N Nov 5 '18 at 8:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Kapten-N I wanted to emphasize the way rights and the groups they apply to form hierarchies. And the way different societies would choose different rationals for fundamental rights. You would pick "sapient rights", but to a society with different world view "sentience" would be the main dividing line. You can actually see signs of this with some animal rights movements. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Nov 5 '18 at 9:22
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    $\begingroup$ “Inalienable rights” would also fit with this answer as a term reflecting the politics leading to those rights. $\endgroup$ – SRM Nov 5 '18 at 14:26
  • $\begingroup$ @VilleNiemi: "but to a society with different world view "sentience" would be the main dividing line" Sure, but then you're redefining sentience from how an English speaker now understands it. A cat is sentient, as is a housefly. But OP's focus ("they can read & write and understand law") is much more narrow than sentience ("cat people" is not the same as "cats"). "Sapient" is much closer to OP's focus, as per the real world definition of "sapient". Note that the dictionary definition of "sapient" refers to humans as we do not have any other sapient species in real life at the moment. $\endgroup$ – Flater Nov 5 '18 at 15:50
  • $\begingroup$ @SRM: "Inalienable" doesn't actually describe the target audience but rather the permanent nature of the rights. We often describe human rights as inalienable, but that doesn't mean "inalienable" inherently means "human" (or human-like in OP's case) $\endgroup$ – Flater Nov 5 '18 at 15:56
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Universal rights.

This is a term in use on earth today for just the rights you are referring to. It means the rights are universal and apply to all. Yet it is implied that they do not apply to animals.

It could perhaps also be interpreted as rights that apply in the universe.

If the rights originated with one race, it may be named after them, or other historical reasons. So Human rights could also be a valid name.

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  • $\begingroup$ This was going to be my answer, since Universal Declaration of Human Rights. $\endgroup$ – AmiralPatate Nov 5 '18 at 8:36
  • $\begingroup$ The problem is that it doesn't only apply to sentient races. $\endgroup$ – vsz Nov 5 '18 at 12:35
  • $\begingroup$ @vsz the way it is currently used on Earth it does only apply to sentient races, even though the name could imply it applied to dogs, computers and cars. Not all names make sense the way "Human rights" does. $\endgroup$ – Osthekake Nov 5 '18 at 13:16
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    $\begingroup$ @AmiralPatate: In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the declaration is universal (i.e. not bound to a particular region). That has nothing to do with who the rights apply to, which is described by "Human". $\endgroup$ – Flater Nov 5 '18 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Osthekake: The UDHR does not apply to all sentient races. Animals are sentient, but the UDHR does not apply to them. Several examples: (1) No one shall be held in slavery or servitude (2) the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law (3) the right to a nationality (4) the right to own property (5) the right to take part in the government of his country; and so on... All human(like)s are sentient creatures, but not all sentient creatures are human(like). $\endgroup$ – Flater Nov 5 '18 at 16:03
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Sophont rights is another option.

This one has the advantage of being well known in the SF genre already. According to Wiktionary: (chiefly science fiction) An intelligent being; a being with a base reasoning capacity roughly equivalent to or greater than that of a human being. The word does not apply to machines unless they have true artificial intelligence, rather than mere processing capacity.

Sophont Rights (in the Eldraeverse)

Universal Declaration of Sophont Rights

Guarantees of Sophont Rights

Pulsar Strike by Cyrus Bortel

Traveller News Service

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    $\begingroup$ This answer could be improved with a definition of Sophont, as it's an uncommon word. $\endgroup$ – Josh Nov 5 '18 at 8:18
  • $\begingroup$ Hmm, I have not come across any of those sources, would have to guess at meaning from context. Also I wonder if anyone has seen a translated copy and how the term was butchered? $\endgroup$ – KalleMP Nov 5 '18 at 11:32
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    $\begingroup$ @KalleMP "Sophont"? It was created by a science fiction writer. scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/181787/… $\endgroup$ – Draco18s Nov 5 '18 at 18:58
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    $\begingroup$ @KalleMP -- I definitely recommend the Eldraeverse books! Very creative mind wrote those. Of course, this is not intended to be (nor ought we expect it to be) an exhaustive concordance of every use of "sophont" in existence. There are probably sources you've come across. There are also squillions of uses in more ephemeral resources like SF, fan and writer forums. It's a well known word, especially among SF readers, writers and dabblers. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Nov 5 '18 at 20:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Josh -- definition & link added! $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Nov 5 '18 at 20:09
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Wouldn't a world with multiple sentient species have a simple term for all of them, something a bouncer in a bar could apply and not just a philosopher? Introduce that word early on in your story or game.

You define intelligent as being able to read and write and to follow the law. Does that mean stereotypical orcs are outlaws in civilized lands?

  • Citizen's rights is not quite right because they would cover non-citizen foreigners. You'd have to find a new word for citizenship-derived rights.
  • Civil rights are somewhat distinct from human rights in our world, but the word is recognizable to readers.
  • If you use people's rights you define only those law-abiding races as people. That might be desirable in your setting.
  • Perhaps use "folk" as a shorthand for "civilized folks" and thus folk rights.
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How about inalienable rights? When we talk about human rights, we're usually talking about the basic minimum of rights that most people agree that everyone should have. These rights are essential and cannot be taken away - everyone deserves them simply by being.

This could also be a bit of an ironic descriptor in a sci-fi story (inalienable rights for aliens).

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As you bring up the law aspect, I think for simplicity and to make the distinction clear to the beings and to your readers I would stick to something like Statutory Protected Rights to indicate that it is whatever you decide that is bound by the law. True rights I personally believe should cover more but will not be protected because the aggrieved parties will not have the legal skills or standing.

In story you could have some small side mention by way of a character relying on or bumping into them illustrate the scope and depth of the rights.

Sort of like:
"Jonestar was still detoxing from the night before and and could not help being irritated by the early morning activities of the Treblim. Every night they would rebuild their grass and reed temple encroaching on the pedestrian way outside their dwelling next door and hold worship. The sweeper robot would just wait for almost an hour with the plasma torches hissing on idle and prevent his sleep and only after the last Trebler bowed his way out and removed the sign of the n-Th dimension could the sweeper knock the encroaching part of the structure down and sanitise the walk way. Jonestar was generally a tolerant Felling but a hungover cat needs to sleep. It was times like this that the whole business of the Statutory Protected Rights extending to all sorts of snack food was hard to stomach."

Hmm, perhaps I should try my tentacles at writing SciFi, it might even be fun.

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You could say "soul rights".

In nautical and aeronautical contexts "souls on board" is used to indicate the number of people on board, irrespective of whether they are men, women or children, or crew or passengers.

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  • $\begingroup$ This would be too broad for most sapients to condone as it gives their food too many rights to fight back. It would suit me as I am a vegetarian. $\endgroup$ – KalleMP Nov 5 '18 at 11:34
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    $\begingroup$ @KalleMP Strictly speaking, the term "souls on board" excludes animals when talking about ships or planes. I suppose it depends on the details of OP's world, whether he considers "cat people" more cat or more people. $\endgroup$ – NovaLogic Nov 5 '18 at 11:45
  • $\begingroup$ Sure, there are three aspects, what is convention, what is current understanding by those in power and what may be the actual facts of the matter when they come to light. The question really is whether you can imply souls due to someone being able to read and understand law and I think it a weak link. It also kind of means that just one gorilla law student gives all gorillas/primates/mammals/vertebrates/animals full 'souls rights'. Slippery slope kind of stuff. If you use a soul as a distinction you should actually be sure of how to define it accurately. $\endgroup$ – KalleMP Nov 5 '18 at 12:00
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    $\begingroup$ This debate reinforces the correctness of Ville Niemi’s answer — no one term serves. It will shift based on the political forces that provide those rights. $\endgroup$ – SRM Nov 5 '18 at 14:31
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    $\begingroup$ @SRM: As far as I'm aware OP is looking for a name which is self-describing to an English speaking reader. Yes, this fictional world may have created words/names of their own but that's beyond the scope of finding a name that inherently makes sense to a (English speaking) reader. $\endgroup$ – Flater Nov 6 '18 at 7:03
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Sentient rights.

Base sentient rights.

Basic sentient rights.

Universal sentient rights.

Could omit sentient as well.

Basic rights.

Are the general terms, but you could add some politics and worldbuilding to this term and do something like:

Elfvala accord rights.

Basic alliance rights.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for Universal Sentient Rights $\endgroup$ – Zack Nov 5 '18 at 23:24
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I'd go with individual rights. The whole concept is that there are fundamental freedoms that no one, not even the government or "the majority", can take away from an individual person. In tyrannies, communist countries, etc, they often pervert the concept of "rights of the people" to mean "powers of the mob" rather than "rights of individuals", and thereby destroy the concept that individuals have rights. But I don't think it's reasonable that the twisted and false concept of rights is what you want to convey. The important thing is that rights belong to individuals as individuals, not as a collective.

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  • $\begingroup$ Big call that cat-people and lizard-people necessarily live in individualist rather than collectivist societies! $\endgroup$ – Bug Catcher Nakata Nov 6 '18 at 2:18
  • $\begingroup$ @BugCatcherNakata Many humans live in collectivist societies; that doesn't mean tyranny and despair are "human rights". The individual rights I'm talking about exist even when they are infringed upon. If "rights" just means "the status quo where you are" then the concept of universal individual or "people" rights is an absurdity. $\endgroup$ – Joe Nov 7 '18 at 0:53
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John Scalzi in Fuzzy Nation (which is oddly all about this kind of law), called it "Sentient Rights".

If you use that, at least you're not inventing the term. There's prior use you can point to.

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How about "Intelligent being rights" ?

KISS

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  • $\begingroup$ Can you provide some reasoning behind the proposed name, to flesh your answer out a bit more? $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Nov 5 '18 at 16:12
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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch: He did. His answer depends solely on writing clearly rather than how the term would have arisen in context. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Nov 5 '18 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ You can shorten it to "Beings rights" $\endgroup$ – toto Nov 6 '18 at 14:51
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You also could pin it to a major religion, which most of your sentient beings follow. Or use the name of the ruler who put the rights into place, or name it after an era or event (all out war, severe flooding, earthquake, uprising etc.).

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I like the Sentient Rights, Sapient Rights, and Natural Rights mentioned before. But, personally, I would dive more into the worldbuilding of your universe.

Here and now, humans differentiate themselves from the other living being to the point that only a minority perceive themselves as animals. (For example, everything that is not human is not included in their law system. Although a lot of humans consider pet dogs as close friends, it's those humans that are held responsible for the actions of those animals by the human authorities.)

Imagine a society build on a broader scope of sentient beings, how would they call themselves?

Human is a very old word, with a long journey, across time and space. A fast google search shows us that the word could come from Proto-Indo-European. The meaning, 'earthling' or 'earthly being', shows the opposition with their gods, who live in the sky. So, if you would be lazy, you could call this community of sentient beings 'humans', and thus call it human rights.

Personally, as a reader, I prefer authors who use a bit more of their brainpower, seeking for original terms through research in facts, imagination, or both (those who I prefer ^_^ ). You could think of a word in some (invented) proto-language, that is clearly defining how an archaic group of sentient beings were perceiving themselves and make the word travel throughout the centuries and regions evolving with the perception that those beings have of themselves.

Sources:

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Subject Rights

In enlightenment philosophy, a subject is one who acts on the world. Since the whole notion of individual rights came up with enlightenment, a technical philosophical term from that era could stick. To subject literally means to throw under, so there's also a hint at an authority - king, state, what have you that might fit well with your world.

Also, a medieval or early modern world might only start to think in terms of consciousness etc:

Subject as a key-term in thinking about human consciousness began its career with the German Idealists, in response to David Hume's radical skepticism. The idealists' starting point was Hume's conclusion that there is nothing to the self over and above a big, fleeting bundle of perceptions. The next step was to ask how this undifferentiated bundle comes to be experienced as a unity – as a single subject.

I'd only go with the term subject rigths if I wanted an early modern or late medieval feel to my story, I think for other timeframes other terms are a better fit.

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One solution could be to simply say "sapient rights". "Being rights" could also work, but it is a bit too general.

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"Human" right might BE the right word, depending how it's used.

In The Last Starfighter, the term "human" is a term used by the Star League to refer to sentient/sapient beings of any planet. Grig, Alex Rogan's alien co-pilot is also a human, although he's of a lizard race. When Alex wears his uniform for the first time, Grig says "NOW you look Human!"

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"Rights for Life"

because it's also kind of a word play :-)

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There are a lot of good answers here but @flater has a good point about why we use the term 'human rights' since we don't extend them to anything not human. An option would be to invent a term to encompass all any sentient/sapient being but something that rolls off the tongue. You might even introduce it as a word imported from a language used by a people who have long acknowledged the existence of many sentient species.

I was thinking about how the word Fae is a synonym for fairy, but in many stories there are many types of fairies each with their own specific name and the term Fae or Fairy used as a universal term for all types of Fairies. And then also what might be a word in a Fae language that they used to include all sentient species.

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